Ski and Spa in Méribel
PUBLISHED: 15:13 12 November 2012 | UPDATED: 12:03 28 September 2015
Combining the thrills of the ski slopes with the luxury of a spa suite was irresistible for Zoë McIntyre during a stay in Méribel
The resort’s central position in the Trois Vallées, the world’s largest ski area, not only gives skiers access to more than 600 kilometres of pistes, but provides those on the gondola with some spectacular views. Although a newcomer to skiing, I realised that I had been quickly seduced as distant specks of colour dashed down the slopes. Demanding, physical and slightly unnerving, skiing is pure exhilaration, so I was soon looking for a well-earned après-ski reward.
Luckily, Méribel has much to offer visitors on and off the slopes. Founded by a British colonel, Peter Lindsay, in the late 1930s, it has built up a faithful clientele, particularly among the British, who return year after year to enjoy sophisticated skiing in a resort that retains a friendly atmosphere and traditional appearance. While some ski villages have been blighted by concrete high-rises, Méribel has adhered to its founder’s architectural principles by allowing only low-rise, chalet-style buildings in traditional wood and stone to be built.
The chalets lining the main street offer plenty of après-ski opportunities. Cosy candle-lit restaurants serve rich cheese and potato-based Savoyard specialities such as raclette, fondue and tartiflette, while cafés attract salopette-clad visitors sipping vin chaud or génépi liqueur on heated terraces. However, I envisaged a rather more luxurious way of unwinding; an evening at one of Méribel’s mountainside spas.
Spa culture has begun to permeate many French ski resorts, as both male and female skiers embrace the benefits of a post-ski massage to help soothe tired muscles. In Méribel, spa facilities are found as soon as you step off the slopes, at the Parc Olympique, opposite the base ski lift station of La Chaudanne. Built for the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, the centre was later transformed into a public space, and fitted with a pool, ice rink, bowling alley, climbing wall and fitness area. The Cinq Mondes spa includes a giant whirlpool bath, men’s and women’s saunas and steam rooms, and a relaxation room serving unlimited cups of herbal tea. After taking full advantage of the well-appointed facilities, I headed to one of the four treatment rooms for a heavenly early-evening massage.
Clicking into my skis the next morning, I felt remarkably lithe and fleet-footed, ready for the rough and tumble of the day. Méribel’s varied terrain makes it a popular choice for all levels of skier, which suited our motley crew of experts, amateurs and levels in-between. We beginners took advantage of the free shuttle service to the nursery slopes at Altiport, and spent most of the morning practising our parallel turns on the green runs of Blanchot, Geai, Fontany and Forêt. These slopes, set in a gentle landscape, are perfect for debutants as well as for children, many of whom could be seen fearlessly snow ploughing in the Moon Park. But skiing in Méribel is not just a young person’s activity, as our instructor explained; the week before he had taught an enthusiastic elderly couple, keen to learn the ropes and share a winter holiday with their grandchildren.
Opportunities also abound for the more advanced skier; out of 73 slopes, Méribel has (in descending order of difficulty), seven black, 23 red and 34 blue runs, and two parks for snowboarders. We parted company from the experienced skiers, who headed for La Saulire (12 minutes on the Saulire Express gondola) where they would tackle the challenging Combe Saulire, Suisse and Combe Pylône runs.
Our group reunited for lunch at the ski-in, ski-out restaurant Adray Télébar. Seated along one of the wooden tables on the sundrenched terrace, we enthusiastically traded ski stories while tucking into escalope de veau à la crème and gratinée de reblochon de chèvre. The terrace offered a vantage point over the Piste du Roc de Fer, where the Alpine skiing world cup finals will be staged in 2015. After being revived by a café gourmand, we spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the undulating green and blue runs at Mottaret, before taking a leisurely cruise through the trees down the Truite run back to La Chaudanne.
Our spa treat for the evening was at the Hôtel Allodis in Méribel’s classy Belvédère suburb, where the chic and contemporary Spa des Neiges has teamed up with French cosmetics brand Clarins. The light-filled space has a swimming pool, eucalyptus-infused sauna and steam room, treatment and bathing therapy rooms, and a gym.
When it was time for my treatment, I was invited to wait on a chaise longue set out in a sun-drenched corridor that provided spectacular views of the mountains. I opted for the full-body Haute Montagne Special Ski massage, working on those muscles most used on the pistes: shoulder blades, calves, feet and back. After the spa pampering, further luxury can be found in the hotel’s bar and fine dining restaurant.
On our final day, the early ski session was a whirlwind affair, as we took advantage of Méribel’s sophisticated infrastructure to explore as many pistes as possible. With 172 lifts, 33 gondolas and 64 chairlifts, the modern transport system allows easy passage from one side of the valley to the other, with all summits reachable in less than 15 minutes. We caught the Tougnette gondola to the first stage, where the green run took us to Mottaret. The advanced skiers continued further on the Plan de l’Homme chairlift to ski down the steep black Caves run.
The last afternoon was dedicated to more scenic skiing from Saint-Martin-de-Belleville. The spacious new ten-seat Plattières gondolas will take you to the summit ridge of the Roc des Trois Marches at a height of 2,704 metres. Here we got an idea of the sheer immensity of the outstretched valleys as our guide pointed out Saint-Bon and the ski resort of Courcheval on one side; Belleville and the resort of Val-Thorens on another; and the lesser-known ‘fourth valley’ of Maurienne. As skiers raced past us down the red runs, we decided to take a break and absorb the scenery.
Skiing may be fast-paced and competitive, but as I enjoyed a warming chocolat chaud while relaxing in a deckchair on top of one of France’s most legendary mountain ranges, I realised that skiing could be remarkably therapeutic, with or without the added luxury of a ski-side spa.
FRANCOPHILE GETTING THERE
By air: Zoë flew with Swissair to Geneva Airport, 135km from Méribel. Transfers can be organised through Méribel tourist office.
By rail: See Holiday Planner on page 88.
By road: Méribel is nine-and-a-half hours’ drive from the northern ferry ports.
WHERE TO STAY
Hôtel Le Savoy
Tel: (Fr) 4 79 55 55 50
Doubles from €230, including breakfast.
WHERE TO EAT
Tel: (Fr) 4 79 08 60 26
L’Éscale, Altiport Hotel
Tel: (Fr) 4 79 00 52 32
Tel: (Fr) 4 79 00 56 00
Spa des Neiges at Hôtel Allodis
Tel: (Fr) 4 79 00 56 00
Cinq Mondes Spa at the Parc Olympique
Wellness and Fitness Area
Tel: (Fr) 4 79 00 58 21
École du Ski Français
Vallée de Méribel
Tel: (Fr) 4 79 08 60 31
Route de la Chaudanne
Tel: (Fr) 4 79 08 65 32
Méribel Valley (150km):
Adults/5-12s: €44/€35.2 one day, €212/€169.60 six days. Family pass: €678.40 six days